The pathway to musical genius can be quite elusive. But its hallmarks are unmistakable: an unparalleled artistic practice and the unique potential to change the course of music across genres. Vetted by the likes of Fred Jerkins III and decorated with a Grammy nomination – all by age 19, it’s an understatement to say that the young singer/ songwriter/ producer IMANI is a musical genius in the making. And with her effortlessly blends mellifluous elements of Pop and R&B, she is undoubtedly poised to make waves in the music industry. The North Carolina native began her musical journey as a child producing songs at the tender age of nine… Read more
As time went on, IMANI found herself torn between this nascent hobby and what was ultimately her first love: basketball. “I played all day, all night,” she laughs. “My mom had to yell down the street to get me to come in the house.” Over time, IMANI became enamored with her father’s pre production set up. “He had a drum machine,” she recalls. “I would watch him hook it up and ask about it. Eventually he showed me how to set it up.” With her parents’ experience as former members of a local R&B band, it seemed that a musical blueprint was embedded in IMANI’S DNA. And over the course of the next few years, it became evident that she was destined to expand on that blueprint and make her own mark on the industry at large. With basketball on the backburner, IMANI committed herself to learning the ins and outs of music production and songwriting. Spending time as a de facto apprentice in the recording studio of a relative and playing drums in her church buttressed the lessons learned from her parents. Her impressive breadth of knowledge gained during this period of incubation was evidenced when she released her debut album at age 14 entitled I Ain’t Ashamed To Praise God. The dynamic album, a menagerie of 10 original gospel and inspirational compositions infused with elements of hip hop lyricism, showcased IMANI’S precocious engineering, nascent instrumentation, budding songwriting abilities, soulful vocal dexterity, and commendable music production skills. Received with critical acclaim, the album afforded IMANI multiple opportunities to develop a live show via offers to perform at various churches in the region. It was clear that IMANI had tapped into something special. “Everyone was impressed that I was able to sing, rap, produce, and play everything,” she recalls. “The album even sold out. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing. But it seemed to connect with everybody. That’s really where I got my start as an artist.” IMANI soon set her sights on Atlanta, one of the South’s undeniable music meccas.
It wasn’t long before her talent would draw the attention of some of the city’s more notable industry figures. At age 15, IMANI’S music was discovered in the trash and this led to an invitation to JPat Records– an entertainment company founded by Johnnetta Patton, mother and former manager of multiplatinum R&B superstar Usher. That connection ultimately lead to a mentorship with one of the company’s A&R Development mentor Michi Robinson, one that would prove pivotal to the expansion of her artistry. “I learned more of the essentials to creating great music, vocal lessons, so many things,” she says. “It enabled me to grow not just as a producer but an artist as well.” Anxious to develop her craft based on this immense growth period, IMANI began performing at vaunted Atlanta venues such as Center Stage and Club 360. Back in North Carolina, she continued to refine her artistic vision and continue high school. Along the way, IMANI took to YouTube and filmed a video showing her constructing a song from scratch in her home studio suggested by her father after hearing the noise from critics claiming she didn’t produce her material.
A few months after launching the series, IMANI once again found herself at the center of yet another industry mogul’s attention. She received a call from Fred Jerkins III, Grammy winning songwriter and brother of trendsetting multiplatinum producer Rodney Jerkins of Darkchild Productions. After graduating high school that year, IMANI inked a deal with Fred Jerkins III and his company. At the Darkchild compound in New Jersey, IMANI fined tuned her songwriting and producing craft under the tutelage of Jerkins – a prolific and accomplished songwriter/ producer who has worked with the likes of gospel artists Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin as well as R&B artists Brandy and Beyonce. “He taught me the basics of chord progressions and how to leave room in the song for the writer,” she says. “It was great to have access to his support, knowing who he has worked with and that he has been in the game for a while. He definitely believed in me.” Her time at Darkchild ultimately proved to be fruitful in a myriad of ways. IMANI contributed production and songwriting to releases by gospel artists such as Canton Jones, Virtue, and Dove Award winning group Trin-I-Tee 5:7. She produced the bass heavy anthem “Bring Your Praise” from Trin-I-Tee 5:7’s sixth album Angel & Chanelle. The song was released as the album’s third single in the fall of 2011. Her work on the Trin-I-Tee 5:7 album garnered her a Grammy nomination the following year in the category for Best Gospel Album. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling,” recalls IMANI. “I got the text from Fred. A month or so later, he told me it was nominated for a Dove Award as well. It was just another step towards what God has planned for me.”
IMANI continued to move forward in her commitment as a student of the industry, obtaining a college degree with a focus on recording engineering. But it became clear after completing her degree requirements that it was time to shift gears. “I went to school for engineering and learned so much sonically,” she says. “But now I’m refocusing my energies on getting back into my artistry.” In addition, she felt it was time to finally pursue a career as Pop/R&B artist. To that effect, IMANI released a string singles over the next few years that would shape things to come – including a track called “Can’t Feel My Face” in 2014. Another track, “Eruption,” found her collaborating with artist/ musician Shelby J – a member in the band of one of IMANI’s biggest musical influences: Prince. “It was my attempt to reintroduce people to me as an artist,” IMANI says of the tune. “But my sound has developed so much more since then.” At the dawn of 2015, IMANI set about the business of constructing songs for her debut project. Produced, written, and performed by IMANI, the album is an opulent display of aural delight that ebbs and flows with sublime balladry, effervescent dance, and mid tempo songs in an unparalleled fashion. “As an artist, I am trying to be an innovator,” she says. “Lyrically, musically, vocally, I believe in always elevating to the next phase.”
IMANI found inspiration for many of the songs on the album in the roots of a past relationship. “A lot of songs relate to my ex,” she reveals. “I was always told that you have to go through something to tell your story. This is what I went through. I thought I was in love. I thought he was that person. He left. He came right back into my life and messed up again. So this album speaks on that situation, but in a profound yet mystical way. All that I experienced created me into a stronger person. Summing to say that attempting to take advantage of me or distract me from my vision is never a success for anyone.”
00 – Ahmed Sirour – DJ Soulswede’s Theme
01 – Imani Pressley – I’m Not Sharing (Single, 2016)
02 – Imani Pressley – All Night Long (Feelings Like These, EP, 2016)
03 – Imani Pressley – I’m Feeling Something (Feelings Like These, EP, 2016)
04 – Imani Pressley – Afraid To Say It (Feelings Like These, EP, 2016)
05 – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (What’s Going On, 1971)
Background music during the interview:
Trin-i-tee 5:7 – Bring Your Praise, Imani Pressley – Hot Sauce, Tori Kelly – All In My Head, Imani Pressley – All Night Long